Forward to the past. (Reverse that and you’ll see the inspiration.)
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)
First Published: 28th March 2013
Date Reviewed: 26th September 2013
As Nick was about to die, attacked in battle in the 1800s, he disappeared. He reappeared, alive, in the 21st Century, found by a group calling themselves the Guild. The Guild promises Nick $2million a year and sends him to South America for training where there are fellow surprised time travellers from every decade. The Guild teaches their members how to live in 2013 and then sends them off to use their education. That was fine with Nick, millions of dollars and a free reign sounded – and was – great for ten years, but now the Guild want him to return to headquarters and forget every rule they taught him. The Guild’s enemies are getting stronger, and Nick has a part to play in stopping them.
The River Of No Return is an imaginative and rather funny book that deals with a particular sort of time travel, the sort where you’re not going to meet different versions of yourself and where history isn’t to be changed unless the world is about to end.
The story is contained to a few people and only a couple of different times, meaning that the narration is pretty straight forward. This may mean disappointment for some readers, as other times are referred to and it’s safe to say where time travel is concerned the future is a magnet to our interests, but there appears to be a sequel in the works. In fact it’s worth commenting on the ending of the book. Ridgway creates a crafty ending the likes of which means the story could definitely do with a sequel, but if none were written she’s left you enough information for you to construct a conclusion.
She reminded him of modern women. The way she stood so confidently, the way she met his eye like an equal, the way she spoke unblushingly of the sex she was not having with her cousin.
It takes a good while for the humour to show itself. Indeed the cover and first several chapters do not in any way suggest that the book will be humorous. When it enters it is laugh out loud and rather clever, although there are occasions where it could be considered too much.
So to the affects of time travel on the characters. Nick, the nobleman, fits right into life in the 21st century. So changed is he, so happy with his new era, that his return inevitably results in plenty of thoughts about women, equality, voting, and so forth. And Ridgway creates the ideal romantic partner for him. Yes, it may seem convenient and unrealistic that Julia, the 1800 woman who may or may not be a time-manipulator (unknowingly), is ahead of her era, but Ridgway sets the foundation of the relationship in the days before Nick’s jump, so that it is more a simple case of two like-minded people getting together. Nick may not have been as modern in his youth as he obviously is in adulthood, but the flashbacks portray enough ambivalence to his situation ‘back then’ and enough remembrance of the younger Julia to suggest that, traveller or not, the pair would have got together.
“Demand you back? You’re a full-grown woman. You can do as you choose…” Even before the words were out of his mouth, Nick realized that the sentence he had just spoken only made sense after two centuries of struggle that had yet to happen.
The affects of the 21st century form a lot of the comedy. Like other ‘jumpers’, Nick is trained to be a modern man, with all the knowledge of beyond 1800s history and pop culture that that entails. In preparation to jump back again, to the 1800s, he has to re-train himself in the art of being a nobleman. Modern phrases and cultural references inevitably slip out whilst back in the past, and it happens a lot, but Ridgway’s particular usage of the theme stops it becoming annoying. As said above, the humour as a whole can become too much, but this takes a while to happen if indeed it does at all for the individual reader.
However it must be said that Nick does forget a crucial part of his 21st century life – sex in 2013 involves a foil packet, sex in 1815 involves no discussion of Nick’s new knowledge and it is left out of the book completely. Although this is only one instance of forgetfulness, the potential impact of such spontaneity, which Nick would ‘now’ know about, ought to have been addressed. His partner may be a virgin, but Nick isn’t and his nature suggests he would consider STDs. And as Ridgway has created no space for a pregnancy in her novel, regardless of the fact that a pregnancy is neither here nor there unless the author includes one, Nick would have surely thought of it, and likely his 1800s partner, too.
Julia has courage and guts, but she’s not superwoman. She is the realistic, if such a word can be used, result of a woman from a good, happy background, with a fantastical talent she cannot understand.
The book spends time on the concept and storytelling device of good versus evil, but Ridgway twists it to suit the people she has created. Unless things change drastically in any sequels, this isn’t going to be, and isn’t here, your typical science fiction save-the-world-from-the-bad-guys series. And it’s undeniably refreshing.
The book dips a bit towards the end, becoming, if not predictable, rather convenient. The reader may work the secrets out beforehand, but either way it does have the possibility of changing your thoughts as to whether or not you’d like to read further books about this world. It creates an expectation of an epic continuation but may seem too drastic a change, as such, to some readers. In many ways the sudden unveiling of answers and new plot points is a pity.
But overall The River Of No Return will delight. It will bring embarrassment to anyone who worries about laughing over a book in public, which should be considered a positive factor, and sate the appetites of those who love time travel novels but are a little worn. The River Of No Return is long, but then so is history. And if the title has you in mind of Marilyn Monroe, never fear – that is exactly what happened to Ridgway, too.
October 7, 2013, 11:31 am
Sounds like fun, if a little dizzying – love good humor in a book!
October 7, 2013, 4:15 pm
I am dying to read this one, even more so after your review — had no idea it was so funny! Will be curious to see if the sex issues you flagged will bug me — I do hate that kind of discontinuity. Still, am vvvvvvvery excited!
October 8, 2013, 12:24 am
I have not read too many time travel books before, but this one does sound good. I like that it is so funny–books that make me laugh out loud are well worth any embarrassment that may come.
October 8, 2013, 2:51 am
This does sound fun! I’ve been wanting some light-hearted fare for a while, and this might be just the thing.
October 10, 2013, 7:44 pm
I love time travel and I’m not afraid of laughing out loud. This book sounds great!